British House Building Industry

Part of Uk Shared Prosperity Fund – in the House of Commons at 4:04 pm on 5th September 2019.

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Photo of Richard Bacon Richard Bacon Conservative, South Norfolk 4:04 pm, 5th September 2019

In 1988, it was indeed two thirds. If we increase the regulation and make it more difficult to get hold of land, it is the SMEs that will go, because only the big firms with the big balance sheets can afford it. It is a very risky enterprise, and actually local planning authorities prefer dealing with a small number of large companies because it is easier for them. That is one of the other things we have to change.

I am accused of wanting everyone to learn how to be a builder and build their own house. It has nothing to do with doing it yourself. It is very important to stress that. It is about self-commissioning and giving the customer more power. I will be briefing the Minister next week on the terms of the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015, which commenced three years ago in April 2016, and the way it was augmented successfully by the Housing and Planning Act 2016, so that now the more people who are on the local register the greater the legal obligation on a council to provide suitable planning permissions.

The point about having individuals and associations of individuals under the terms of the legislation is that it could apply to anybody. It could be used by school governors wishing to use the provision of a serviced plot of land as a recruitment and retention tool; by local social services directors trying to recruit social work managers in parts of the country where it is difficult to find the right calibre of social worker; by NHS trusts trying to accommodate staff, whether young junior doctors, paramedics or ambulance staff; by local Army commanders trying to retain that very expensively trained staff sergeant with 20 years’ experience; by the Royal British Legion and other veterans groups trying to accommodate veterans; by probationers and ex-offenders trying to make sure that ex-offenders coming out of prison have accommodation that is not the drug dealer’s sofa; and by the homeless themselves—I have seen just outside Berlin, in Potsdam, homeless single mums building their own accommodation for an affordable rent.

That brings me to my next point: it has nothing to do with tenure. One can use self-build and custom house building both for private ownership and for all kinds of affordable accommodation models, including mutual housing co-operatives and various other types of social landlords.

I am keen to keep my remarks brief, but I want to say a few things to the Minister about what the Right to Build Task Force, which I have been involved with for some years, is now looking for. We had £350,000 of funding from the Nationwide Building Society, and with that we can evidence an additional 6,000 to 9,000 houses added to the pipeline in the last three years. If we can do that with £350,000, think what we could do with some serious money. I would like the Department to take on the funding for that, but also as part of a help-to-build team installed within Homes England with the task of facilitating the delivery of service plots, buying land, and working with local authorities and other public sector partners on public sector land for a range of client groups, especially the young and those who have been most marginalised. That team should also reach out to anybody who wants to get a service plot so that we reach a point where someone can go to the plot shop in the local town hall in their home town and find a plot of land as easily as people can in the Netherlands, where I have seen it done.

We have to put help to build on a level playing field with Help to Buy. The Government are currently planning to spend £22 billion on Help to Buy, subsidising demand, when we should really be subsidising supply. If one wants more of something, then subsidise it and it will happen. I know from many people I have spoken to, including Treasury Ministers, that there is a desire to do something about the growing cost of Help to Buy. The obvious thing to do is to wean people off Help to Buy—a subsidy for demand—and wean them on to a subsidy for supply, thus increasing supply.

We have to remove the regulations that currently allow local authorities to charge people to be on the register each year. Most do not, but Camden and Islington councils charge £350, and people do not get any guarantee of a plot for that. That should be revoked. I said that to Gavin Barwell when the regulations were introduced. I was not put on the Committee for some reason, even though it was my own private Member’s Bill that became the Act, but I went along anyway and spoke. He said on the record—I can show this to the Minister—that if it proved to be a problem, he would take a look at it. Although he is no longer the Minister, the Government were committed to looking at it. I can tell the Minister that it has become an issue and we should now revoke these regulations. The charge is supposed to recover the cost of keeping a register, but that is really very small—it can be done in an exercise book kept in a drawer or on a spreadsheet.

We need to introduce a series of specific planning reforms, particularly allowing for exception sites where councils are not fulfilling their legal obligations. We need to make it clear that the national planning policy framework has a presumption in favour of sustainable development in circumstances where councils fail to meet their duties under the legislation, irrespective of whether there is a five-year land supply, in terms of providing service plots. We need to introduce changes to the planning system that provide greater predictability to reduce the planning risk—for example, through the compulsory use of form-based codes or through local development orders. We need to take forward the proposals in the White Paper to facilitate land pooling, which has worked very successfully in Germany and elsewhere on the continent.

We do have a broken system, and doing more of the same will not produce a different result. We have to think differently and do differently. I encourage the Minister to take that responsibility seriously.